Sports produces the best politicians. Look at Sepp Blatter who took football to great heights while taking himself to greater heights, the objective of all politicians.
N Srinivasan did the same thing with Indian cricket though there has been a problem or two lately; perhaps his political skill vis-à-vis Blatter’s are like Rahul Gandhi’s vis-à-vis Indira Gandhi’s. On the other hand, Lalit Modi’s skills surpass those of Indira. If these great talents were in charge of our politics instead of our sports, India would have by now overtaken China as a military power and brought Pakistan to the level of the Aam Aadmi Party’s government in Delhi.
The latest TV shoutings make one thing clear: Lalit Modi is the Sepp Blatter of India. Or should we put it the other way—that Sepp Blatter is the Lalit Modi of international football? Either way it will be a compliment to Blatter for the Swiss is no match to the Indian when it comes to networking on the one hand and daring on the other. Compare the way they spoke when challenged. When top members of his team were arrested on charges brought by the US government and Blatter won re-election in the heat of that crisis, he said: “I am being held accountable for the current storm. Ok, so be it.” When Lalit Modi was caught in the storm of multiple controversies, he said: “This is war. So bring it on...The games have just begun.” That’s the mark of a man who deserves to be at least shadow prime minister in England.
The Congress saw the Lalit affair as a golden opportunity to exploit. After all the case smelled of corruption, criminalities, black money. Besides, the way an Indian on the wanted list received extraordinary help from the country’s foreign minister and a chief minister looked like a juicy scandal. For the Congress’s misfortune, however, none of the other opposition groups joined it. People like Lalu Prasad even asked critics not to harass Sushma Swaraj. And Anand Sharma as knight-errant for the Congress made the Congress case weaker; his self-righteous style of delivery puts off people instead of winning them.
Nonetheless, the impact of the Lalit Modi case on public perceptions cannot be ignored. The stigma of cronyism and conflict of interest can be fought off in the daily duels of politics, but it will not be easily erased from the public mind. To that extent, critics of the government will be able to say that the gap between the ethics of the previous government and the ethics of the present government has narrowed if not disappeared altogether. The BJP’s own L K Advani drove it home when he said that “forces that can crush democracy have become stronger... I don’t have the confidence that (the Emergency) cannot happen again”.
Power affects the functioning of the mind. Some in UP think that, once elected, they have the licence even to get opponents murdered. At more civilised levels, power-wielders still tend to see themselves above the rules that apply to others. The BCCI, with leaders like Sharad Pawar at the helm, conducted itself as an entity that made its own rules; it decided, for example, that the Right to Information Act did not apply to it—and that was that. The same way, FIFA ran the affairs of football as though it was answerable only to Blatter and his cronies. Smaller sports bodies in India also do the same thing. Ask Mahesh Bhupathi for little-known details of how tennis is run. Ask Jwala Gutta about badminton.
Cricket and football stand out because the scale of corruption is so immense. American prosecutors charge that football is steeped in a culture of “rampant, systematic and deep-rooted” corruption. Bribes taken by FIFA officials were in excess of $150 million over 24 years. The scandal led to Blatter resigning immediately after he was re-elected. But now there is talk of his withdrawing the resignation and carrying on. Even the very rich cannot easily shake off the lure of power and the easy money it brings.
The Blatters of the world never say die. Lalit Bhanot, the man who was jailed along with Suresh Kalmadi in the Commonwealth Games corruption case, has just been elected Asian Athletic Federation Vice-President. At this rate, Kalmadi may become sports minister in the next Congress government. For Lalit Modi, presidentship of the BCCI may now be too small a job. Rashtrapati Bhavan?